HC Deb 12 July 1849 vol 107 cc248-51

wished to put a question to the right hon. Home Secretary relative to the sanitary state of London. Information had reached him (Mr. Bernal) that day that the disease termed "cholera" was certainly spreading its ravages in different parts of London. He was surprised that hon. Members could submit to the state of discomfort, increasing every day, caused by the nuisances round and about the house in which they were assembled from noon often until two o'clock the next morning. The smells, he was told, arising from the churchyard in the immediate neighbourhood and from the vaults of St. Margaret's Church, were found by persons in attendance on Committees to be so pungent and deleterious, that they were obliged to close the windows; and at the table where he often had to sit for some hours, he found odours arising of such a nature that he could not tell by what they were engendered, but this he could say, that such a state of things must infallibly act upon the health of Gentlemen who were discharging very onerous duties under such circumstances. But he would take the opportunity of inviting the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the general condition of London. The sewers now were a perfect disgrace. With all the alterations of the commissioners of sewers, they were so bad in his neighbourhood, not a mile from the House, that at night he was obliged to close his chamber windows to prevent deleterious influences acting upon the inmates of his residence. Again, he had heard complaints from the neighbourhood of Ludgate Hill; he understood that persons there were dying, and it was not known to what the mortality was attributable, but it was believed that the drains were not attended to and scoured out; and many considered that, after all the talk and the efforts of the gentlemen who had applied themselves to the subject of the sanitary condition of this vast metropolis, we were worse off than throe or four years ago. Whether the blame lay with the commissioners of sewers, or the city authorities, or whom, he could not say, but the whole of London was in a state respecting which he would say that he was ashamed to think that a civilised people, in the year 1849, would submit to be in such a condition, surrounded with pestilence and disease.


quite agreed that this was a very important subject. He did not understand his hon. Friend to put a question to him, but to call his attention to this matter; and he could only say that, whenever a representation had been made to him of a nuisance of any kind existing in any neighbourhood, he had felt it his duty to call the attention of the Board of Health and the police to it. He had received no specific representation with regard to nuisances in that immediate neighbourhood; but certainly the statement of his hon. Friend, who had to attend in the House for so many hours, demanded inquiry. With regard to London generally, every power conferred upon the Board of Health or the police was, he believed, put in exercise with a view to prevent, as far as possible, the spread of disease. The prevalence of it probably arose partly from the state of the weather, and the drought.


, when in office, had to move a grant for the repair of St. Margaret's Church, and received a previous assurance from the authorities that they were then in treaty for a burial ground in the country in lieu of that which was close to the House. He was mainly induced to move the grant upon the faith of that arrangement; he wished to know whether it was being fulfilled?


would make inquiry.


, representing the Board of Health in that House, begged to state that they were utterly powerless in these matters. The Board of Health had no jurisdiction within the metropolis, except in cases where the cholera should have broken out, and then they could give certain directions, and have certain cleansings made; but those were surface cleansings. Privies were to be emptied, streets washed, and a system of house-visitation established, so long as cholera prevailed; but, with respect to the institution of effective measures for the removal of permanent sources of disease, the Board had no power. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester had said that the state of the metropolis was much worse than before. He (Lord Ashley) could hardly concur in that. It was very bad, very unsuited to health and safety, but there had been a very great deal of cleansing, and he was happy to say there was a determination to go further in the adoption of such measures. The cholera was now spreading rapidly; and unless something were done it was impossible to say what would be the consequence.


begged to say that various nuisances had been removed by the operations of the commissioners of sewers, but in places the least likely to come under the notice of Members of that House, the endeavours of the commissioners having been first to cleanse the most miserable parts of the metropolis. Vast accumulations of deposits had been flushed away from the drains; and the drains under that House were clean and clear; but the pestilential exhalations of St. Margaret's churchyard, from the decomposing bodies there, it was not in the power of the commissioners of sewers to keep off. With reference to the imputations cast upon the body of which he was a member, he wished to observe that the state of the plans and maps bequeathed to them by their predecessors was such, that it was utterly impossible to take with confidence any steps founded upon them; and therefore a survey was ordered, which had only just been completed. Before that, nothing could be done without danger of wasting the money of the ratepayers in useless works.


, in reminding the House that they had been informed that the Board of Health had no power to abate a great and admitted evil, begged to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether it was not in spite of earnest remon- strances in that House, that he, or those who represented the Government, exempted the metropolis from the Health of Towns Bill, which contained powers to deal with the great nuisance of pestilential churchyards?


answered, that it was thought by the noble Earl the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, after inquiry, that it would be necessary to have a separate Bill for the metropolis; and it was on that ground that his noble Friend did not include the metropolis in that Bill. This year his noble Friend had considered that until the commissioners of sewers, appointed last year, had proceeded further with regard to the requisite alterations in the system of sewers, it would not be advisable to introduce a Bill.

Subject dropped.